NASA STS-129 Shuttle Launch TweetUp: Day 1
Registration for the NASA STS-129 Shuttle Launch TweetUp was from 7:30-8:30 am, and if you missed it you could not attend any part of the 2 day event. I was already exhausted and partially sunburned from working the previous day, but we managed to get up at 4:30am and begin our drive to NASA a little after 5:30am. It’s normally about an 80 minute trip according to Google, but we’d never driven to the Kennedy Space Center before and wanted extra time for breakfast, getting lost, etc. After dealing with all the tolls and a mis-turn we arrived about 7:20am, behind 5 other cars already parked and waiting. When people came out to the check-in table we picked up our credentials, program guide, press kit, and some cool gifts and waited. We passed the time by introducing ourselves to each other, taking photos, and (of course) tweeting.
The Morning Presentations
At 8:30 NASA staff escorted us into a conference room inside one of the visitor buildings. The room was filled with round tables, each having power strips. Everyone scrambled for their desired tables and set up their laptops, cameras, and other equipment.
Each table was also given an unidentified object used by NASA. Some of the objects were explosive bolts (used), special bricks, and a sample of aerogel (sometimes referred to as solid smoke). I had always wanted to see some aerogel, but sadly I missed the opportunity.
Each speaker was very engaging, and the audience was tweeting the whole time. At one point #NASAtweetup held the 3rd most popular trending position on Twitter.
It was very apparent that NASA was experienced in social media. From simple details like providing power at the tables and warning presenters that people would frequently be looking at their laptops rather than at them, to the the large twitter feed screens in front of the room. The presentation was detailed, humorous, and played to a diverse audience. Everyone had nothing but compliments about the morning. More than once the discussion came up how main stream media looks for and focuses on “the tragedy”, while social media is all about real-time sharing the experience. NASA probably experiences this more than most; it seems that the only reason the main stream media shows up at a shuttle launch is to be there in case something does fail
You can watch the entire two hour presentation just as we did (except broken up into 3 YouTube compatible segments). Note: I can be seen working about 29:16 into the part 1 video.
Part 1: John Yembrick (NASA public affairs officer), Jon Cowart (Ares I-X deputy mission manager)
Part 2: Wayne Hale (strategic program planning manager), Mike Massimino (astronaut, STS-109 & 125)
Part 3: Veronica McGregor (public affairs, NASA’s JPL), Miles O’Brien (space reporter, former CNN anchor)
Here’s a screen capture of our table from the simultaneous broadcast on NASA TV:
All the speakers were informative and entertaining. After the session Astronaut Mike Massimino stayed around for autographs and photos.
NASA then told us they had to step up the schedule, and that the buses would be leaving about 11:45, so we had about 45 minutes to site see and have lunch. While touring the visitor center I saw this display of old Apollo 11 items:
I once owned this View Master set, which included the vinyl record.
The Afternoon Tours
At 11:45 we climbed aboard bus #2 to our first destination while our tour guide, Greg, described the sites we passed and his experiences working at NASA. Since the day would be presentations and tours, I decided not to carry around my heavier Hi-Def camera equipment and tripod, opting instead for my G1 camera phone and a common pocket camera.
Our first stop was the International Space Station building, where you can see what some of the modules of the Space Station look like and feel like to walk through. There were also genuine station modules in a clean room area. These are used to replicate and solve problems up in space, or prepare them for actual transport to the space station.
Our next stop was at the Apollo 11 memorial attraction. I had actually sen this attraction once before in the early 1980s and it seemed the same, and just as enjoyable.The entrance is through these massive metal doors, that when they opened I half expected them to sound like #2’s office doors in “The Prisoner” TV series.
When it begins you see all the original Mission Control stations setup as if long abandoned …
… but suddenly they spring to life with lights, sound, and displays, and you are taken on a recreation of the Apollo 11 mission of 1969.
Last time I was at NASA was back in the early 1980s, and they had a Saturn V rocket sitting outside, rusting, that you could climb on and take photos. Today this massive structure has been restored and is on display inside the building you enter when leaving the Apollo 11 recreation.
There were other Apollo mission vehicles on display as well:
The Big Surprise
Our final stop was a surprise. We heard that we would be taken to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis while it was still on the launch pad, BUT NASA did not tell us that we would be stopping only 1/4 miles away from it! Words were insufficient to describe our excitement!
If NASA had warned us that this was going to occur, I would have brought my good camera gear! I had to settle for these photos, plus I also did a quick, short live stream video from the site:
Quite an exciting way to end the day! We continued to take pictures until it was time to load back onto the bus and get dropped off at our cars, then take the long drive home.
Tomorrow was launch day!
These are only a sample of the photos taken today. You can view my full photo stream on Flickr,
[In the next segment of this series I relate the events of the second day of the Tweetup, including the shuttle launch]